Executive members of Cambodia's beleaguered opposition party have accepted the resignation of Sam Rainsy, its charismatic leader, and named his deputy, Kem Sokha, acting chief until a party congress can be held.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has announced that he will resign from his position as president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The opposition CNRP hopes to building on its surprisingly strong showing in the 2013 general election.
Courts that critics say are influenced by Hun Sen have convicted Rainsy of a series of defamation charges, forcing the opposition leader into exile in France. "I must not and I can not be barred from coming back to Cambodia".
A younger Sam Rainsy leads an anti-government rally in 1998.
Whether Mr. Hun Sen would actually follow through on his threats to dissolve parties led by individuals convicted by Cambodia's courts-widely viewed as politicized and corrupt-has been a matter of debate.
In his resignation letter, Sam Rainsy accused the CPP of trying to dissolve his own party and to "institutionalise a one party system".
In a letter, the Congressmen state that the U.S. State Department can play a critical role by communicating to the Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen the importance of holding elections deemed credible by the global community.
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His most recent period of exile began in late 2015, when a years-old prison sentence for defamation was reinstated against him and an amnesty suspended.
He has been the target of several lawsuits by Mr Hun Sen and the CPP, mostly related to his criticisms of the ruling party on his Facebook page.
Cambodia's opposition party was set to meet on Sunday after the shock resignation of its founder and leader, an official said, with the movement increasingly boxed in by the country's strongman premier.
Opponents accuse Hun Sen of maneuvering to try to extend his rule.
Political analysts foresaw that the party's two prominent candidates - Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy's wife Tioulong Saumura - could compete for the position of the party's new president.
"If he'd taken the higher more ethical road he would have had more support internationally", he said.